CRAWFORD | Better not bitter: Amid adversity, joy peeks through for Louisville
Amid the disappointment of a postseason ban, don't get the idea that this University of Louisville team is sitting around moping. Players say they're still having fun, and in Wednesday's win over Syracuse, it showed.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — For an arena (and city) full of University of Louisville basketball fans looking for something to feel good about, the Cardinals on Wednesday night delivered.
They shut down and slammed down a good Syracuse team 72-58 by pounding the ball into the paint for a 50-20 scoring advantage, including a handful of highlight-reel dunks to punctuate a resounding rebound from back-to-back road losses.
Yes, they wanted to show that they haven’t let go of the rope on this season — though close losses on the road at Duke and Notre Dame hardly send that message.
“They're a very good team,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “They've lost their last two games -- they were at Notre Dame and at Duke in close, close games and they are two teams in the top 15 in the country. They've played well all year and they'll play well the rest of the year.”
But there’s another message that may not have come through. That’s the picture of the team off the basketball court. It’s the team that started laughing and shouting as soon as reporters left the locker room after Wednesday night’s game.
When U of L announced its self-imposed postseason ban, an immediate cloud of depression settled in over its fan base.
It’s easy, then, to transfer that to the players, to assume that they’re sitting around hanging their heads, maybe alternating deep sighs in the shadowy silence as they stare en masse into the abyss.
But that, I can tell you, is not this team’s style. It hasn't been from the start. This is still the team that scrambled out to the hotel pool in Puerto Rico to find enough chairs so that everyone could have spots next to each other.
“I have never been a part of a team that has had this much fun together from the start,” Louisville freshman Donovan Mitchell said. “From the first day when we were hanging out at the pool and Damion (Lee) walked in and we all went crazy — it was the first time any of us had seen Damion — we've just had something that most teams don’t have.”
This is still a team that will break out into song at a moment’s notice.
After Wednesday’s win, they were hustling out of the KFC Yum! Center to grab some food and get back to the dorm to watch the second half of North Carolina-Duke. Together.
“One thing I can definitely give credit to this team is that its character has not wavered, no matter what people may say off the court,” Lee said. “But you saw it in Puerto Rico. We’re constant jokes, laughs, if it’s one of us, it’s five of us. Being there for each other, enjoying each other’s company. This team’s special. You know, we know that the postseason ban is in effect, but man, this team is special. . . . Knowing that we just have this year together, these guys are my brothers, and I’m going to come back here and support them and I know they’re going to do the same thing for me.”
I spoke with Rick Pitino earlier this week, after Pan-African Studies department chairman Ricky Jones made his public statements that he saw no new “bombshell” in U of L’s NCAA investigation that he thought should necessitate a postseason ban.
Pitino was concerned about how that would affect his team. He really wondered how it was going to play, and in fact wondered how he was going to explain that to his players.
Here’s how he explained it.
Don’t be bitter — be better.
Yeah, maybe it’s a little corny. I won’t know until I see it on a T-shirt — which I expect will happen in about ten minutes.
Don’t be bitter — be better. And because of this team, and the kind of team it has been, and the kind of players it has, those guys actually took that and embraced it. Yeah, Trey Lewis got frustrated after Notre Dame and expressed that he felt like he was playing "on a leash" at times. Pitino didn't have a problem with Lewis' frustration. He had a problem that Lewis spoke about it in the press, not with him. But even that was included in Pitino's message that, "Bitterness gets you nothing. Getting better is what it's all about."
“We’ve gone through some adversity,” Mitchell said. “Let’s make the most of what we have. We have two senior leaders who want to go out on a positive note. We couldn’t go undefeated for them, but we want to do something that allows them to celebrate, and those of us coming back next year to do it with confidence.”
Don’t be bitter — be better. In a pregame interview with John Ramsey and Mike Rutherford, Pitino reiterated his excitement about next year’s team, and without having to say it directly, his desire to be the guy coaching it. He laid out his case for being that guy.
I’ll say this for him — with an assist from this group of guys, he keeps finding resilience amid disappointment.
“We want to flip the script,” Mitchell said. “We want to be remembered as the team that stayed positive. A postseason ban isn’t really going to affect how we work or play. We’re still motivated. We’re still ready to play. For a team that’s gone through so much off the court, to get out there and play and take that off your mind and show some joy in the game, that’s what we want to be known for.”
On Wednesday, the Cardinals took a step in that direction.
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